Sunday, August 11, 2013

Internet History, Technology, and Security (UMich, Coursera) - a great starting point for your mooc journey

One of the first moocs that I took was this course by Charles Severance (@drchuck) on internet history and technology. As I mentioned in my introductory post this was also one of the most enjoyable courses I took. This is not a very rigorous course but that does not detract at all from its attractiveness. In fact, as I mentioned in my introduction I believe that this course hit all of the goals it seems to have set out to achieve.

There are 7 units, 4 on history and 3 that deal with the more technical aspects of how the internet works. Dr. Severance is very involved with this class and holds in-person office hours in various cities that he visits. He is also very active on twitter which allows some students to have interaction that is usually not practical with moocs.

The assesments for the course were 6 quizzes for the week, a short written assignment that was graded via peer review and a final exam. The highlight of this course for me were the videos, which often had us going back in time to listen to people involved in the early days of the internet talking about their experience as it was going on.

As I proceeded through the course I found myself excited to get to the technology part of it. When we got there I remember wishing that there were more details but I actually think that this is a strength of the course and not a weakness. It inspired me to do some additional research outside of the course to learn a bit more. I can understand not wanting to make the course itself more technical because at some point you risk losing those who don't have any background. As an overview course I felt that it spent the proper amount of time on each topic and went into sufficient detail.

For those that are taking their first moocs I would suggest this course, or a course like it. It features both of the methods of assessment currently part of Coursera, peer review and multiple choice/automated grading. It is not a technical course which makes the forums more important in my opinion. In technical classes like the UPenn calculus class the forums tend to be full of discussions about specific homework problems but in classes like these the discussion forums can be a big part of the experience. Try to get involved in some discussions just to start building it as a habit. Some courses offer forum participation as a way to earn a certificate as well.

Finally it is not inherently a time-intensive course nor is it difficult which makes it easier to complete. I think it is important to complete the first couple of courses that you take. While I've dropped out of more courses than I've completed I finished most of the first courses I took which set the tone for my future studies. (They were Internet History, Securing Digital Democracy, Introduction to Finance, and Udacity's CS101.) A large portion of students don't complete the courses they sign up for and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of Coursera courses that interest you. I have a hard rule to never take more than 5 classes at a time but the actual number tends to hover around 2-3. Taking a class like IHTS (acronym for this course) is a great place to start but make sure you commit to finish. Once you have a few courses under your belt and have a good feel for how moocs work you will be able to better plan your schedule in the future.

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